Bernese Mountain Dog
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Caitlin UltimoBehavior / Breed Lists

Bernese Mountain Dog Breed: Facts, Temperament & Care Info

Friendly and good-natured, the Bernese Mountain Dog may be the perfect pooch for people looking for a big, furry companion. But don’t let their sweet demeanor fool you: These powerful pups were built to work, and they can pull several times their weight, whether in front of a sled or a cart. Of course, your Bernese Mountain Dog probably will not be hauling around weight—but luckily, they’re perfectly content to be excellent family pets, thanks to their pleasant personalities.

Bernese Mountain Dog Facts

Known as Berners, these dogs are one of four similarly colored Swiss mountain breeds—the others being the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, the Appenzeller Mountain Dog and the Entlebucher Mountain Dog. However, they’re the only ones with a long silky coat.

  • Breed Group: Working group
  • Height: 23-27.5 inches, with male dogs typically standing taller than female dogs
  • Weight: 70-115 pounds, with males tending to weigh 10 pounds more than females
  • Life Span: 7-10 years
  • Coat: Double coat, with a long, silky outer coat
  • Color: Tricolor consisting of black, white, and rust or tan

Bernese Mountain Dog Characteristics

Bernese Mountain Dog
Illustration: Chewy

Bernese Mountain Dog History

Bernese Mountain Dog history dates back centuries: Legend has it that the Romans brought the ancestors of the Bernese Mountain Dog to the Swiss mountains over 2,000 years ago.

The Bernese Mountain Dog eventually got their name from the canton (or state) of Berne. There, these dogs worked on the farms, herding cattle, pulling milk and cheese carts, and serving as faithful companions and watchdogs.

They came to America in the mid-1920s when a farmer in Kansas imported a pair to work on his farm. They quickly caught on and they now rank 23rd in the American Kennel Club’s list of most popular breeds.

If you’re considering introducing a pedigree Bernese Mountain Dog puppy into your home, know that a typical Bernese Mountain Dog price can range from $1,200 to $2,000 and beyond. Of course, you can also adopt a pooch from a Bernese Mountain Dog rescue. Head to the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America to find both Bernese Mountain Dog breeders and rescue groups.

What Does a Bernese Mountain Dog Look Like?

Striking is the word that comes to mind when you cross paths with a Bernese Mountain Dog. With their tricolor coats, powerful bodies and animated, good-natured expressions, these dogs are majestic from head to toe.

Berners have brown, oval-shaped eyes and medium-sized triangular ears with rounded tips that hug the sides of their heads. Their muzzles are straight, and their noses are black.

Bernese Mountain Dogs also have broad chests and backs, along with strong, powerful legs (the better to pull those carts and sleds). Their low-lying tails are long and bushy. Like most mountain herding dogs, they have a double coat consisting of a wooly undercoat and a long and thick outer coat that can be straight or slightly wavy—but never curly.

Most Berners are tricolor. They have mostly black coats with rust or tan on their legs, face and around the eyes and a white chest, muzzle and paws (and sometimes a white tip on their tail).

This dog breed will also garner attention for their large, imposing build. The average Bernese Mountain Dog size can reach up to 115 pounds and 27.5 inches tall.

Bernese Mountain Dog
Illustration: Chewy

Bernese Mountain Dog Temperament

While the Bernese Mountain Dog was originally bred to be a farm dog, these days, many of these pups live in homes where they bring joy and companionship to their families. The Bernese Mountain Dog temperament is generally calm and patient, but it’s important to choose a breeder carefully to minimize the odds of health and temperament issues.

Bernese Mountain Dogs are slow to mature, so you’ll be dealing with puppy-like behavior for at least two or three years. That can be a lot to handle in a dog who likely will be at least 70 pounds when full-grown—and often significantly larger!

The Bernese Mountain Dog’s rambunctiousness and size can make this breed less ideal for homes with very young children because youthful Bernese Mountain Dogs may nip or knock over these children in a well-meaning effort to play. (They don’t understand their own size and strength!). They can, however, be great family dogs in homes with older, more mature children.

Keeping Bernese Mountain Dogs Healthy: 3 Issues to Watch Out For

How long do Bernese Mountain Dogs live? According to the American Kennel Club, a typical Bernese Mountain Dog’s life span is 7-10 years, which is shorter than many breeds of similar size. Unfortunately, this is because they are at higher than average risk for several serious health problems, as described below.

Orthopedic Problems

Bernese Mountain Dogs are at relatively high risk for orthopedic problems like hip and elbow dysplasia, both of which can lead to potentially debilitating arthritis over time.

Learn more about the symptoms of hip dysplasia here.

Eye Problems

Bernese Mountain Dog eye problems are quite common and can include eyelids that roll inwards or outwards and progressive retinal atrophy, which is a degenerative condition that leads to loss of vision.

Neurologic Problems

Degenerative myelopathy is a progressive spinal condition that frequently affects Bernese Mountain Dogs. It causes hind end weakness and eventual paralysis.

Preventing Bernese Mountain Dog Health Issues

This is obviously not a complete list of Bernese Mountain Dog health issues. Hypothyroidism, heart disease, gastric dilatation-volvulus (bloat), several types of cancer and a blood clotting disorder called Von Willebrand Disease all occur with some frequency in the breed.

To maintain and hopefully improve the breed’s health and well-being, the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America requires that dogs used for breeding undergo the following tests:

  • Hip dysplasia, through the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), PennHipp or Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) evaluation
  • Elbow dysplasia, through OFA or OVC evaluation
  • Eye examination by a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist with results registered with OFA
  • Cardiac evaluation by a board-certified veterinary cardiologist with results registered with OFA
  • DNA testing for degenerative myelopathy

Additionally, at least one of the following tests must be run:

  • Thyroid panel per OFA guidelines
  • DNA testing for Von Willebrand disease (parental testing acceptable)
  • Risk test for histiocytic sarcoma (a common type of Bernese Mountain Dog cancer)

Before purchasing a Bernese Mountain Dog, ask for the results of these tests. If a breeder is hesitant to provide them, find someone new to work with. If you choose to adopt, be sure to get as much medical history as the rescue organization is able to provide.

Caring for Your Bernese Mountain Dog

Understanding how to care for a Bernese Mountain Dog requires paying special attention to the breed’s distinctive characteristics.

Grooming

With a thick double coat, Bernese Mountain Dog shedding can be an annoyance to some pet parents. The breed tends to shed heavily twice a year, with periods of less shedding in between. Tools like the Safari Single Row Undercoat Rake, Miracle Care Slicker Dog Brush and Frisco Metal Comb are ideal for removing shed hair.

Bernese Mountain Dogs should have their nails trimmed as needed, a chore that is made easier with a nail trimmer like the Andis Premium Dog Nail Clipper. Teeth should be brushed daily. The Virbac C.E.T. Oral Hygiene Dog Kit contains an appropriate toothbrush and toothpaste.

Shaving a Bernese Mountain Dog is not recommended by the AKC, as it can actually make it more difficult for double-coated breeds to cool off. (Their coats allow them to properly regulate their body temperature!)

And if you’re wondering if the Bernese Mountain Dog is hypoallergenic, know that they are not—but no dog breed is truly hypoallergenic. (You can learn more about the myth of hypoallergenic breeds here.)

Nutrition

Bernese Mountain Dogs generally do well on high-quality, life stage appropriate dog foods. A large breed puppy food—like Wellness Large Breed Complete Health Puppy Deboned Chicken, Brown Rice & Salmon Meal Recipe Dry Dog Food or Hill's Science Diet Puppy Large Breed Chicken Meal & Oat Recipe Dry Dog Food—may help reduce the chances that a dog will develop orthopedic problems. Large breed puppy foods slow a dog’s growth (rapid growth can put stress on joints), but pups eventually will reach their full height.

Products that are formulated to promote healthy joints, like Royal Canin Large Joint Care Dry Dog Food, are a good choice for adults. But picking the best dog food for a Bernese Mountain Dog is an individual decision that should be made in consultation with your dog’s veterinarian.

Since the breed is at risk for bloat—a serious, sometimes deadly condition that results from the stomach becoming severely inflated with gas¬—how you feed your Bernese Mountain Dog is as important as what you feed them. While it’s impossible to completely eliminate the risk of GDV, following a few tips can help:

  • Feed several smaller meals each day rather than one large one
  • Prevent rapid eating by using a bowl that slows their eating, like the Frisco Non-Skid Slow Feeder Dog Bowl
  • Do not feed from an elevated bowl
  • Reduce stress, especially around mealtimes

Exercise

Despite their size, Bernese Mountain Dogs only require a moderate amount of exercise—around 30 minutes a day will suffice for most Berners. However, more exercise is often desirable for the physical and mental benefits. Bernese Mountain Dogs can excel in and enjoy organized physical activities like carting, drafting, agility, herding, obedience, rally and tracking.

Training Your Bernese Mountain Dog

Since Bernese Mountain Dogs are so large, it’s extremely important to socialize them properly—an aggressive dog this size can be very difficult to handle. Choose a puppy from a reputable breeder and begin training your puppy as soon as they come home. Teach your puppy to lie down (learn how here) as a default behavior, and get started on leash manners immediately.

Use positive reinforcement to teach your Bernese Mountain Dog puppy that it’s worth doing what you ask. Treat training with yummy goodies like American Journey Training Bits is a great place to start. Consider finding a training class taught by a certified dog trainer (begin your search here) to get tips on Bernese Mountain Dog training, and remember, these dogs stay puppyish for several years, so don’t expect quiet, calm adult behavior right away.

Dog sports, such as agility, are a good way to keep your dog healthy and serve as an outlet for that puppyish energy. And if your Bernese Mountain Dog does get overexcited, stand still and quiet for a moment. Then, offer a dog toy, such as this fun KONG Tuggerknots toy. The toy gives your Bernese Mountain Dog puppy a proper place to put their play energy.

Bernese Mountain Dogs were bred to do a job, and whether your pup’s task is bringing joy as a therapy dog, competing in agility courses or simply being your BFF, your friendly Berner is sure to provide you and your family with plenty of love and affection.

Read more:

By: Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM; Irith Bloom, CPDT-KSA, CDBC; Linda Rodgers

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